1996 William James Fellow Award
William T. Greenough
University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign
William T. Greenough is one of the world’s leading investigators of experience-related neuronal plasticity in the mammalian brain. He has been the major proponent of the hypothesis that the key element in learning and memory is the formation or retraction of synapses between neurons. He has pursued this general idea by investigating the effects of environmental complexity, social complexity, learned motor tasks, and physical activity on the dendritic structure of neurons, the frequency and morphology of synaptic connections between neurons, the functional efficacy of synaptic connections, and the molecular events underlying synaptic plasticity. When he began his career, the adult brain was thought to be an anatomically static structure. Now it is commonly accepted that rapid synapse formation can occur throughout life, and the hypothesis that synapse formation lies at the core of behavioral plasticity has come to the fore. William Greenough’s research forms the central body of work supporting this view. No other individual has been so devoted this idea, so dogged in its pursuit, and so successful in demonstrating its importance. It is fair to say that he deserves the major credit for establishing the current view of dynamic, life-long synapse formation in the mammalian brain.